Sue Scheff: Teens and Body Piercing

As a parent I went through my struggles when my daughter was a teenager and wanting to “express” herself with body piercing, starting with the belly button.  Personally, I don’t care for these types of “self image” expression, but who am I to judge?  Just  a parent that grew up in another generation.  What I find disturbing is the tattoo parlors and others that allow these “kids” to have body piercings and tattoo’s without a parent’s permission.  Guess I am old fashion.  I did take my daughter (way back when) and permitted the belly button ring, I figured it was better than the tongue or the eyebrow – which she later did behind my back!  Good news is – as a young adult, she grew out of all of it and thankfully my life with teens is in the past.  Oh – but remember, you can learn from my mistakes!  PS:  She also got a tattoo (as a minor) which I didn’t allow, but what can you do?  Gotta love these teens…. or at least survive them!

Here is another good article with parenting tips from Connect with Kids on Body Piercing.

Source: Connect with Kids

“I have a lot of patients that have tongue bars, and I’ve seen a lot of damaged teeth from them.”

– Dr. David Montgomery, a dentist

More than half of all teens with tattoos or body piercings get them without their parent’s permission, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  And oftentimes, that means no one is warning these kids about infections, scarring, and broken teeth. 

Connie, 24, has a piece of metal piercing her tongue.  Two weeks ago she was eating dinner, “And I bit down really hard on it, and I just, it hurt, I just felt like something fell off,” she says.  She bit down on the metal in her tongue, and what fell off was part of her tooth. 

Nineteen-year-old Aaron broke a tooth the same way.  “I was eating some Chex mix or something, and just bit down, and crack,” he says.

Broken teeth, scarring, hepatitis, even AIDS …any piercing on any part of the body can go wrong.  In fact, researchers from Texas Tech University found that a belly button piercing has a 45 percent chance of getting infected.   

It happened to Camille, 23.  “It grew kinda swollen, and just kinda puss-ey,” she says.

Then, Camille got her upper ear pierced and that filled with puss, too.  “Okay, that one really, really hurt,” she says.  I’m not going to lie, it really, really hurt.”

And some teens get hurt and don’t even know it.  “The first thing we do when we see a patient with a tongue bar is we’re going to go in and look for broken teeth,” says Dr. David Montgomery, a dentist.  “We’ve had patients in that haven’t realized, and they’ve had THREE broken teeth,” he explains.

Experts say inserting a piece of metal into your skin is hazardous.  But despite the dangers, the trend is only getting more popular.  So, if your child insists, and you allow it, make sure he or she goes someplace clean and professional.  “And have it done right, rather than by a family friend or another adolescent,” says Dr. Rick Lloyd, a pediatrician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Tips for Parents

Piercing is becoming a more prevalent form of body art and self-expression in today’s society.  However, oral piercings, which involve the tongue (the most common site), lips, cheeks, uvula or a combination of sites, have been implicated in a number of adverse oral and systemic conditions.  In fact, the American Dental Association recently cited oral piercing as a public health hazard.  It says the piercing of oral structures presents risks of infection because of vast amount of bacteria in the mouth.

Patients typically undergo piercing procedures without anesthetic.  In tongue piercing, for example, a barbell-shaped piece of jewelry typically is placed transverse to the thickness of the tongue at the midline in its anterior one-third using a needle.  Initially, a temporary device longer than the jewelry of choice is placed to accommodate post-piercing swelling.  The free end of the barbell stem then is inserted into the hole in a ventral-dorsal direction.  The recipient grasps the free end of the shank between the maxillary and mandibular anterior teeth and screws the ball onto the stem.  The barbell also can be placed laterally, with the studs on the dorsolateral lingual surface.  In the absence of complications, healing takes four to six weeks.

In lip or cheek piercing, jewelry position (usually a labrette) is determined primarily by aesthetics with consideration to where the jewelry will rest intraorally.  Once position is determined, a cork is usually placed inside the mouth to support the tissue as it is pierced with a needle.  The needle is inserted through the tissue and into the cork backing.  The needle then is replaced with the labrette stud, and the disc backing is screwed into place.  Healing time can range from weeks to months.

After piercing, teens may experience the following side effects:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Increased salivary flow
  • Infection

The potential for serious infection occurs during tattooing and body piercing.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the needles that are used to penetrate the skin at various sites on the body can become contaminated by blood or serum.

HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses are present in blood and spread by infected blood entering another person’s bloodstream.  This contamination can occur during tattooing or body piercing, when needles used for penetrating the skin are contaminated with infected blood or serum and are not sterilized before use on another person.

Blood or serum does not have to be visible on an instrument or needle for infection to be transmitted.  It is important to note that all instruments that penetrate the skin of a person, including needles and attachments such as nozzles bars and tubes, must be sterile.

Infectious disease specialists, like Dr. Arnold Lentnek, caution that preventing teens from piercing their lips, cheeks or tongues may take more than a stern warning. 

“And I think it’s going to be difficult to dissuade them by telling them about the problems that may theoretically occur down the road,” Dr. Letnek says.
In order to deter your teen from getting a tattoo or piercing, the University of Iowa Health Care’s Virtual Hospital suggests reminding your teen of the following problems associated with body art:

  • Unsterile tattooing and piercing equipment and needles can spread serious infection, hepatitis, tetanus or even HIV.
  • Asking a friend to apply a tattoo may ruin a friendship if the tattoo doesn’t look like you thought it would.
  • Tattoo removal is very expensive.  A tattoo that costs $50 to apply may cost more than $1,000 to remove.
  • The law in many states prohibits the tattooing of minors.
  • Tattoos are not easy to remove and in some cases may cause permanent discoloration.  Think carefully before getting a tattoo.  You can’t take it back if you don’t like it.
  • Some people are allergic to the tattoo dye.  Their body will work to reject the tattoo.
  • Blood donations cannot be made for a year after getting a tattoo, body piercing or permanent makeup.


  • American Dental Association
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • University of Iowa Health Care’s Virtual Hospital